A civic group, Minority Rights Group International with over 40 years experience of working with non-dominant ethnic, religious and linguistic communities by bringing a long-term view of these issues to bear in all the work they do has said that human lives and livelihoods are threatened daily in the Niger Delta area.
The group singled out the Ogoni area of Rivers State for a detailed report.
The group which is campaigning worldwide with around 130 partners in over 60 countries to ensure that disadvantaged minorities and indigenous peoples, often the poorest of the poor, can make their voices heard says Ogoni and other indigenous and minority communities have also been deprived of the benefits of development in other key areas.
According to them, they are deprived in infrastructure, healthcare, and education, pointing out that the absence of even basic infrastructure creates a daily threat to life and livelihoods in the Ogoni area.
The views of representatives of Ogoni communities interviewed by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) researchers were consistent with the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC)-commissioned survey data showing that, in areas such as water provision, over 50 per cent of projects were deemed non-functional, although these were listed as completed in2000.
This suggests to the communities that the oil corporations do not care about the consequences of such failures, despite the obvious threats to water supplies from both oil pollution and population pressures.
As regards health, there is a direct correlation between the intensity of oil production and its negative impact on health.
When oil operations discharge toxic effluents into rivers and onto farmlands, harmful elements such as mercury and chromium enter the food chain. The discharge of effluents also contaminates underground water and makes it unfit for human consumption; yet this remains the only source of water for local people.
According to the group, basic equipment, health centres, hospitals and clinics are lacking in Ogoni communities, and transport in the region is both difficult and expensive.
Projects repeatedly suffer from extended periods of ‘renovation’ without any clear prospect of a service that is effective, or will address local needs. Fundamental failures can undermine progress in other areas: the Terabor General Hospital in Gokana, for instance, despite heavy investment by Shell, still has a faulty water supply, leaving the hospital dependent on a supply known to be contaminated.
‘’Education at all levels in Nigeria is a cause of wide-spread concern. Problems are exacerbated in the case of the Ogoni. The environmental degradation of the land upon which the local economy depends erodes the economic power of most Ogoni families, making it doubly difficult for them to put their children through school.
‘’Further, the Ogoni are disadvantaged in language education. They do not have the opportunity to study their own language, culture and history’’, the group said.
Since oil was discovered in Ogoni in 1958, the Ogoni people have waged an uneven struggle with successive governments that are allied with oil companies. Exploitation of oil resources has failed to take adequate account of the rights of minorities and indigenous communities, or of the environment
‘’Oil is the basis of Nigeria’s wealth, but the indigenous peoples and minority groups who live in the areas that generate it are impoverished, rather than enriched, by oil extraction. Resources put into development by both the government and the oil companies are failing to effectively reach the minorities and indigenous communities of the Niger delta.
Communities report a lack of consultation about, or participation in, the design of development projects of which they are the supposed beneficiaries. Increasingly, Niger delta communities are exchanging information and ideas on their experiences, and challenging the performance of government and oil companies’’, the minority rights group said.
The Nigerian government should fulfill the economic, social and cultural rights of the minorities and indigenous peoples of the Niger delta by providing adequate basic infrastructure and social services, and develop effective mechanisms to ensure the representation and participation of minorities and indigenous peoples in policy- and decision-making at all levels including development projects and programmes.
The group is calling for a review of existing land and environmental legislation, including the Minerals Act of 1958, the Land Use Decree of 1978, and the Petroleum Decree of 1969, as a step towards recognising the rights of the minorities and indigenous peoples of the Niger delta to the lands.
‘’Steps should also be taken to adequately rehabilitate environmentally damaged regions in accordance with Articles 21.2 and 21.4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
‘’Take steps to grant the Ogoni people a form or degree of autonomy, which will guarantee them the possibility of exercising their right to control their economic, social, cultural and political affairs.
‘’Establish independent mechanisms for monitoring the performance of oil companies as regards their contribution to development in the areas where they operate, and ensure that the activities of transnational oil companies and their Nigerian affiliates comply with international human rights and environmental standards.
‘’Establish a coordinated Community Development Fund, managed by people of the highest reputation, freely chosen by members of the community, to execute the minority groups’ and indigenous peoples’ collective priorities, as regards the use of payments by oil companies to compensate for damages to community-owned properties.
‘’Implement the recommendations made by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Communication 155/96 to ensure protection of the environment, health and livelihood of the people of Ogoniland.’’
On the oil corporations operating in the Niger Delta, the group wants them to fulfill their responsibilities to the societies in areas where they operate according to existing corporate social responsibility standards, including the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy, and Articles21 and 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
‘’Comply with international environmental standards such as those outlined in Agenda 21, Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration, and Articles 6, 8, and 10 of the Convention on Biological Diversity.3. Ensure that community development projects are designed and carried out in consultation with representative local organisations.’’